Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 23 Recap

This post is the 23rd recap of play in our RuneQuest 6th Edition, collaboratively-developed, sword and sorcery campaign. This session dealt with the brutal creatures, bands of enemies, and strange goings-on in the unexplored lands at the edge of the Firmament. We estimate that there are perhaps two more sessions left in this leg of the campaign. Once done, it will be put on hiatus so that we can explore Mythic Britain.

Check the list of links below for recaps of the previous sessions complete with system detail and analysis, as well as other related articles on RuneQuest 6 and this campaign. Less-detailed video recaps are also available from time to time on my YouTube Channel.

Session 23 saw us leave the known edge of the Firmament behind, with unexpected and unexplored lands stretching on to the horizon ahead, on the way to the Tower of the Dawn. Gorwyn’s player returned, but Gorwyn has been separated from the group, so the tension in the session could be enhanced by cutting between the characters’ points of view. This was a session filled with questions and answers, investigation and revelation.

Problems  & Solutions:

Surprisingly, we had a second week in a row with no mechanical issues; everything once again worked as it was supposed to. This session was mostly exploration and roleplay, although with the return of Gorwyn as an active PC we did get the chance to try out Spirit Combat as he came face to face with the fact that he was not entirely alone within the shell of his physical form. Spirit Combat went smoothly and led to a lot of expressive and revealing roleplay.

As expected, however, the large number of NPCs in the scenes did present me with some trouble. This was mostly as a result of needing to model them all, but sometimes as a result of needing to react to something important. Scene 1, for instance opens with a dragon, so….

In our hangouts, my camera offers little more than a headshot, so my usual methods of dealing with large numbers in a crowd go unseen. I found it frustrating to have to use so much talk to establish even little things like a reaction, when I have long since been able to move away from that sort of thing. This is not a big thing. This is a game just for us, not an audience or as a performance. While the purpose of this RuneQuest campaign is to have fun, relax, and enjoy what arises, there are times when the medium of the Google Hangout cramps my style a little bit and makes me wonder if there are ways around the limitations. Obviously, voices and modes of speech can be and were employed, but I found myself wanting more.

Thoughts on Running the Game:

This session was fun for a few reasons. It was nice to have Gorwyn involved again, and to return to a three-player dynamic. It was also enjoyable to have the group in two very different locations and be able to cut between them. Session 24 was run without Turged’s player, so we focused on Gorwyn in Pumoth Deep, by introducing a new character for him to get involved with there. That character, a sorcerer, was run by Vonge’s player and allowed him to add his own stamp to the setting by creating a new cult and their effect on the fragmented Mountain holdings between the expanding forces of the Aelran Empire and the desolation of the Desert of Screams. That 24th session will be folded into the recap for session 25 and be noted as such when it begins. That’s right, Regular Reader, we are now three sessions behind in posting the events of the campaign. It may also be that we will have to take a three or four week hiatus from play due to the intrusion of the Real World. That would be par for the course if we get to within striking distance of the last session and then have to pause for a month. Tap to drain fun~

The events of the session brought out an aspect of the setting hinted at in the first session, suspected off and on throughout, but not really confirmed until now. I like it when such things can be a hidden and yet open part of campaign play. In certain places, the reality of the Firmament is subject to change based on the subconscious framing of humans who enter it. What the group makes of this discovery should be interesting. I hope that it does not become too distracting, now that it is out in the open, but it is always nice when a minor design element is revealed and enjoyed.

After a year of waiting and wondering, we have finally entered a phase where Animism and dealing with spirits will be a regular part of the campaign. Spirit Combat in RuneQuest has a lot of options, and layers. It is also quite simple to run if you know what you are trying to represent. I am a bit surprised it has taken us so long to have such an encounter, but it was worth the wait. As a mystic, and one trained quite harshly to use his mind and his spirit in harmony as a weapon, there were a few ways we could model his struggle with a possessing entity. Having spent quite a bit of time reading the excellent rules in the recently released Luther Arkwright: Roleplaying Across the Parallels, I was very tempted to chuck my initial conception of such a duel and use Tenacity Points, but once in play, I decided to stick with what I had prepared to keep the momentum flowing.

In this combat, the Possessing Entity was a being spawned and given access to Gorwyn in his brave battle with a summoned Creature  by the corrupting nature of its Chaos-infused form. riding him covertly, it was trying to erode the young warrior’s ability to resist Chaos. As he became aware of this, we modeled his ability to center and focus himself with Meditation, and set the target of the spirit’s attacks as his Willpower. This was described as the entity seeking to erode Gorwyn’s confidence, self-image, and sense of purpose. Had he been a Shaman, his battle with the spirit would have been given a lower difficulty and run completely in line with the printed rules on Spirit Combat, but in our setting, this is an art lost to most of humanity and its allies. For the assault on Gorwyn’s persona,  images were drawn from the campaign’s events, and from the character’s backstory to drive home the doubt and weakness unleashed with each successful attack. The dice worked very well for us here as a combination of luck and good tactics, as the entity started out with high rolls and maximum or near-maximum damage and Gorwyn not doing so well, to a gradual reversal of fortunes. Each wound reduced his willpower and increased the desperation of the struggle.

The best part is that the struggle is not over yet. If he is to get free of this entity, he will need help.

Session Twenty-three: Under the Sun

This session was run on a Saturday afternoon, with three players present. It was a session which could have gone in a lot of directions, few of them good for the characters, but somehow, they managed to leap from the frying pan, to another frying pan. 

The Session

As usual, this session began right where we left off in the previous session, with a short recap to reintroduce Gorwyn to the flow of events in Pumoth Deep, and remind those on the quest that they were witnessing the descent of an immense dragon to land before and below them in a valley. Gorwyn awoke strapped to a table, while the questing group were scrambling backward behind the hilltop they had just crested.

Session Recap:

  • Turged, the Duke, Kered, Gejan, Donad, Denad, and Turnan huddled in awed silence for several moments, unsure if they had been seen. The two Reptilians split up so that one could crouch by Vonge and the other by Turged. When no further roaring or shuddering of the stone crest pursued them, the group loosed weapons and regrouped to confer in low tones. Kered, the leader of the Plenthan squad was overwhelmed and uncommunicative, so Vonge stepped in and began issuing orders. He sent Donad out to scout and began drilling Denad on everything he’d learned as an acolyte priest regarding this place and creatures like this… thing that no one wanted to call a dragon. Its head was twice the length of an adult man from the tip of its nose to the back of its head, with wings that stretched from one side of the valley to the other, coiling and thrashing tail, and a powerfully muscled body in between.  Its eyes seared themselves in their memories and stolen glances over the crest in dimly glowing blue tones that swirled and flared like lighting in the clouds. Denad, his voice shaking at first, but firming up as he spoke, confirmed that even here at the edge of the Firmament dragons had not been seen since before the start of recorded Plenthan history – if ever. Creatures like dragons were known, and Vonge and Turged recollected seeing such a creature flying in the distance when they were making their way to Pumoth, but no real dragons were believed to exist. Even the Chaos Dragon itself was believed to be metaphorical. It was hard to imagine what this creature could be, other than a dragon. Warming to his topic he also began to speak about the Edge of the Firmament, and how according to his learning, Pumoth Deep had been built on the very edge of the world. This his generation certainly knew to be false as their patrols took them far beyond the Deep into the mountains, toward the horizon. He mentioned how as a young man, he had listened to the reports of those who had stood on the Edge of the Firmament and gazed outward beyond it, and beyond the Crystal Dome. Now, sitting here, seeing the mountains stretch on to the horizon forever, he was at a loss to reconcile what he had been taught, and what his eyes were showing him. With Donad’s return, things got more serious. The scout confirmed Denad’s feelings that they had passed the officially recorded “edge of the world” some time ago, and would soon pass the distance he expected would be the real edge. He turned the topic back to the dragon and stated first that it was real, that it was crumbling the stone on which it crouched, and that the ceremony of the nomads was going on underneath its massive head. One adult, a shaman of some sort, was leading painted youths ranging in age from perhaps 10 to 14 in ecstatic dances which had them reveling like creatures and animals. While no transformation was taking place, each child, one by one, was rising up from their kneeling and swaying position under the dragon, to dance and leap in ways that made the viewer see the movements as those of a creature of the plains or the mountains. Hearing this, Denad shared that his training had included awareness of the practices of other nations and peoples, and the nomads were known to believe in totem spirits to guide them – the bonding with which formed the core part of their rites of adulthood. His anger began to overtake his fear as he felt the dragon’s presence was some perversion of this ancient rite. Vonge sent Donad back out again to keep an eye on the rite, and turned to the others to make plans. As he did so, the dragon roared again…
  • Gorwyn awoke in a dark room with vague recollections of the passage of time, of the horrors of the healing of his crippled arm, of kind and concerned faces, and of taunting dreams. He knew that not long ago someone had been in to tend to him, feed and clean him, and make sure his straps were tight. He was bound at every long bone and joint, and across his waist and chest. He remembered the vigilance of the guards who accompany the healers each and every time they check on him. He remembered thinking they might be right to be so vigilant. Then, beneath his skin, he experienced something which both confirmed those thoughts and set him to screaming. Something under his skin was sliding upward toward his face from his lower abdomen. Something with a voice he could hear in his head. Trying to center himself, he began to strain mightily against his bonds [Brawn, Contest of Strength, RQ6 page 59] which had already been weakened and their fastenings strained by earlier bouts of madness he could not recall. In his desperation and rising panic, he managed to free one wrist, which in turn let him undue the buckle over his abdomen. From there, it was a matter of force and contortion and time before he was free. During those sweaty, heart-pounding moments the voice in his head grew louder and more cogent. Taunting him and trying to degrade him, trying to destabilize him with fear and uncertainty. When it recognized that Gorwyn had freed himself from confinement, and was sinking to the floor to clear and focus his mind as he had been taught to as a mystic-warrior, it grew more desperate itself. The entity began to rail against Gorwyn and slam him with images and taunts that showed his weakness, showed his betrayals, and showed his failings. It scored deep wounds in his mind and will be hitting him with the death of his patron, of his shirking of his vows to the Lifesworn, and of his foolish pride. Reeling from these attacks [Possession, RQ6 p.215] Gorwyn steeled his mind and began to lash out on the rising tide of his fear and his Passion to serve Law in his quest for the Stones. He knew that if the entity won, it would erase him and take his place to begin hunting his friends…
  • Turged and Vonge knew they were no match for whatever the beast was – if it wasn’t a dragon they were unprepared to imagine what would be. A brief discussion with their Reptilian allies disabused them of any lingering hope they might have of facing the thing in battle. They had to accept that they were too late to deal with this group of nomads, but if they were conducting their rites here, perhaps it was not too late to beat them to the Tower. With all the speed and stealth they could muster, they skirted the area and took a wide route to circle around the ritual and to seek other groups of nomads. They attempted to hasten their passage by once again invoking the Flow, but found that the patterns and currents of the Divine Force were too disrupted and distorted to channel. The presence of the draconic reptile, and the shaman’s ritual made it impossible. Disturbed, they began to walk. As they did, the Reptilians collected more moist leaves and small, edible creatures to ensure the group could keep its strength up. The further they walked, the more the sky took on a flatter, more metallic hue, but the sun sat motionless in the sky. After a blurry day or two of walking and stalking in the vague, arid mountains of the edge of the world – a peculiar mix of terrain including low, ragged mountains, flat stretches of grassy plateau, and patches of hard and stony desert – the group was exhausted again and no closer to any of their goals. Frustrated and recognizing that they were at real risk of getting lost, they made camp. Their intention was to rest and to discuss practical plans of what to do. As they sank down in the dry and crumbling turf in a cupola of rock, and the Reptilians moved around to pass out the cool, minty, leaves with internal pockets of clean water, Turged’s sharp eyes noted something most peculiar…
  • On the defensive, Gorwyn knew he could not hold out. Eventually, the entity would wear him down. It was faster. It was hidden away in the dark corners of his mind, and it was growing to know him better even than he knew himself.  Moving past the terror and into a rage, the young mystic-warrior threw himself, his pride, his sense of belonging, and his friendships out as weapons against the spirit. Seizing the initiative in their spiritual warfare and lashing out again and again with brutality and ruthless determination. His first flurry of attacks were repelled, but little by little he felt his crystallized purpose and surging sense of self cutting deeply into his assailant.  Ultimately, in a chain of successful attacks and ripostes, he drove it back into hiding within himself. Weakened, shaken, and worried it would return, Gorwyn retreated into bravado and pride when guards came to check on him instants later. Within minutes, he had convinced himself that the  thing was vanquished, never to return. He was free of it, he told himself, and from those small little lies his assailant took strength. The guards found Gorwyn kneeling by the door in a ritualistic pose, his face calm and clear of the torments of the past few days. They helped him back to the bed, and cleaned him up while the Priestess Agan was sent for. When she arrived and pronounced him no worse for wear, he asked to see Tan and learn of what had happened to his friends. Agan was concerned about setting him free in the spaces reserved for the temple hospital, but as the spirit within him was so beaten and weak, she allowed it – providing he was guarded at all times. She left him then to arrange a proper exorcism with the full complement of the priesthood for later that day, but circumstances conspired against her…
  •  The rations for the Reptilians had run out some time before and they had not been as successful foraging for themselves as they had for the others. As Vonge and Turged reopened discussion on this problem, their two, scaled allies began to exclaim joyfully as they began digging into a rich nest of grubs near where Vonge was seated. Turged knew for certain that nest of grubs had not been there moments before, but kept his silence. Later, as the amount of water remaining was being discussed, Vonge was able to point out a small stream of clear water from an underground spring. His confidence in his mountain heritage as the source of his ability to locate the water when the others could not, and the glances being shot between the brothers Denad and Donade (the scout and the Warrior-Priest) prompted Turged to share his thoughts, finally. He wondered aloud if it might not be possible that the environment around them might not be changing in response to their presence, and more particularly, to the presence of Vonge – the only human among them. While light-hearted tests of this theory failed, the suspicion was borne out later when the group resumed their travel. Vonge kept the idea of the Tower in mind, the instructions on the ancient map they had retrieved for the great library of the Temple of Ascension making more sense to him. They began to make better time. The vague and bland landscape around them began to take on more distinction, but most importantly, the dark shadow on the far horizon began to draw closer, and with it the sun seemed to climb higher in the sky. They were nearing the Edge of the Firmament! Soon they would under the Frozen Sun. Soon, they might have to face Chaos. Steeling themselves for anything, they were unsurprised when they heard distant chanting on the wind. Sending Denad to scout ahead, they gathered together to prepare for action. This close to the Tower, they had to be careful, and decisive. Denad returned quickly with reports of another group of young nomads with a shaman to guide them preparing a ritual together in another stone cupola in the hills. The strangeness of the terrain was not lost on the scout and he made it clear that such a landscape struck him as impossible. Like the previous encounter with the nomads, the cupola was on the precise spot that streams of the Divine Force came and surged together. As before, their horses were secured around the top lip of the stone depression in which they sat cross-legged as the shaman guided them into a deep trance. This time, however, the group was not too late to interfere. With Vonge snapping out instructions, and Turged ensuring they were being followed quickly, the group prepared a quick plan of attack, then proceeded to creep closer to the chanting, and the ring of horses. Tapping Gejan to start things off with a surprise, Kered ordered the warrior-engineer forward to scatter the horses. The small, consistently cheerful man, advanced stealthily, calmed the nearest horse, and then cut them loose. Well-trained as expected, they did not wander. Prepared for that, Gejan lit a small bowl-shaped signal flare which produced bright flashes of light and explosive cracks loud and rapid enough to startle the horses and set them running into the strange mixture of foothills, mountains, and high plateau. Not wasting a moment, the shaman set his youthful band after the horses, shouting some sort of plains proverb to goad them on. Then he turned unafraid and unsurprised to face the warriors who were slipping quietly down into the large cupola of stone to subdue him. As his eyes passed over them, the coldness and disdain on his face was evident. With a sinking feeling, Turged realized that the vast numbers of nomadic tribes across the great plains really must be allied with Chaos…
Session Twenty-four and Twenty-five:

The twenty-fourth session recap will deal with Gorwyn and Xol Qaan’s battle with Possession, while the twenty-fifth brings the group under the Frozen Sun, to the Tower of the Dawn~

Stay tuned~

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